Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Summer Place.

About a month ago, I received word that a friend of mine, Alana, would soon be retiring, and would I like to go to her surprise retirement party?

Of course, I said yes. Even though I haven't worked in the department she works in for over decade, I have fond memories of my time spent as a Casualty Supervisor in the Claim Department, and especially, the people that I worked with. Without a doubt, Alana was one of my all-time favorites.

I love Alana because she has such a love for the absurd. She never fails to see the humor in things, and is one of those people who can get you laughing, no matter how serious the work at hand is. Working in Casualty, which basically means figuring out how much of a price tag to place on a person's injury, you have to value people like that.

Being a lover of the absurd, I suppose it's no surprise that Alana tends to attract absurd situations into her life. It's just bees being attracted to honey, I suppose. Time after time while I was working with her, Alana would come to me, as her boss, and, being a lover of tales (just like me), she'd unfurl in glorious detail some of the strangest situations, much to my amusement.

During one of her first months, she came to my desk with the strangest look on her face. Even at that time, I knew her well enough to know that I was in for a great story. "What is it this time, dear?" I asked.

"Well..." she said, clearly distressed. "I have this injury claim, and I just don't know what kind of value to put on it."

"What happened?" I asked.

"Our insured struck the vehicle in front of him in the rear, so liability's clear," she replied. "He struck two little old ladies, these two sweet little old ladies. Nicest women you'd ever want to meet. So I was doing my job today and making calls out to both of them to see how they were and whether they were injured. I called the passenger, and when I spoke to her, I asked whether she was injured. She told me, well...yes...but in a kind of interesting way..." Then, Alana  blushed and smiled, for dramatic effect. "It seems that because of the impact, her left breast smashed up against the seatbelt, causing her nipple to become inverted."

I blushed, tried not to giggle. "You're saying her nipple...went..."

"That's right, Ted," she replied. "It went south for the winter. But should I offer her any money for that? I mean, other than the inconvenience, it's not hurting her. She's certainly not going to be breast feeding any what should do?"

"Keep the file open and call her in a month," I replied.

One month went by, and the inverted nipple lady came up for diary. I called Alana over to my desk. "So, what ever happened to that little old lady with the nipple that went south for the winter?" I asked.

"Oh, that!" Alana beamed at me. It was as if she had been waiting for me to ask. "I called her the other day to see how things were, and she said, 'Oh, just fine.' Then I asked her, delicately, how her little problem was. She said, 'You know what? I was taking a shower the other day and soaping up the puppies, when all of a sudden, POP! Everything was back to normal!"

Then she laughed, and of course, I started to laugh. For the rest of the day, all of I could think of was POP! Right away, that would get me to laughing again.

There are so many other stories like that. Weddings we'd go to, where she'd come dressed in a fox stole complete with matching muff. I marveled over that muff of hers for hours. Another wedding, where she brought with her a Nantucket wicker basket. I amused myself by shoving things into her basket whenever she went to the bathroom...dinner rolls, napkins...stories of pranks she pulled on neighbors, memorable Christmas themes she'd arrange for her children...oh, and sayings. "Laugh and lie," she'd always tell me, and it's something that stuck with me for years. Laugh and lie, even if you're furious with someone or about something. Better to put on a happy face than to fuss and make a bad deal even worse. Just don't let them see they got to you.

Alana is a lover of life, and it always showed. And even after I left the department, I still kept in touch with her. How could I not? People like her are few and far between.

This afternoon was her retirement party, and after she had entered the room and delivered her farewell speech, she went around the room to thank everyone. When she came to me and our friend Anna, she stopped. "You two," she said, sotto voce. "Follow me for a minute."

With that, she walked out of the room. Of course, we followed, wondering what in the heck we were in for now.

Alana moved us by a cubicle, then lifted up a finger. "Wait right here," she said, then scurried off.

Of course, we didn't move a muscle. How could we?

Alana returned a few minutes later, with a bag under her arm. "So, I think both of you know that my husband Russ inherited a beach house in Westport, and we've been in the process of refurbishing it," she said. "Anyway, I was going through some stuff in he cellar, and I came across a box of watercolors that had been painted by his Great-aunt Mabel. Remarkable woman. Born before the turn of the century. She had been a student at RISD, but didn't graduate. Smart as a whip, though! She made all her children bring home all their college text books so that she could read them, and she did, cover to cover. Anyway, she was quite an artist. Her husband was an artist, too, and he never graduated from RISD either...he'd been thrown out, for some such thing. She always got angry about the fact that they would go to art fairs and sell their works, and his would always sell, and hers wouldn't. Even though she was the better artist. 'Your paintings are too dark!' she'd always tell him. Then he died, and what did she do? She took all his paintings and made them brighter! I tell you, remarkable woman..."

"Anyway, I found this pile of paintings in the cellar, and figured she'd want people to have them, rather than have them gathering dust in some dark old place. So, would you like to take one?"

The one I chose is shown at the start of this story, and I fully intend to frame it within the next few days and hang it on my wall. Right in the living room, right by my writing desk.

And not just because it's a nice painting crafted by a remarkable woman. That's just half of the story, for me.

The other half is that the painting was given to me BY a remarkable woman. A professional absurdist, an eternal optimist, someone who taught me to laugh and lie (although I don't use that trick half as much as I should.) Every time I see that painting on my wall, I know it's going to make me smile.

That's something anyone can use to brighten up any corner of a home, I think. Which is why I'm happy to have Mabel...and Alana...brightening my life for many years to come.

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